Sustainable Amsterdam — Port Embarks On A Clean Energy Transition

Fourth of a four-part series on Amsterdam’s efforts to become a more sustainable city.

Westhaven, Amsterdam’s western harbour area. Image by JVHERTUM.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Change is coming to the Port of Amsterdam. The Port is seeking to become one of Europe’s most sustainable ports.

Competing ports are modernizing and these days, that means reducing their environmental impacts. So Amsterdam must do the same to remain competitive.

The Port is part of the World Port Climate Initiative, which launched in 2008 when 55 ports from around the world signed the World Port Climate Declaration at the encouragement of the C40 Climate Cities Leadership Group, with support from theClinton Climate Initiative.

Amsterdam is the fourth busiest port in Europe in cargo tonnage, has 350 employees, and an annual investment budget of 10-15 million. More than 2,000 companies use the port every year and generate 6 billion in revenue. Companies in the port area employ 55,000 people.

The Port is thus not only of substantial economic importance to the city of Amsterdam, but to the Netherlands as well.

Like every major world port, Amsterdam has many opportunities to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). According to the port’s Vision 2030 statement, the port seeks to become “an innovative hub for [an] energy transition [and a] circular and biobased economy,” that will create jobs, new products and value-added, in partnership with the surrounding community.

(A bioeconomy means an economy based on the use of renewable biological materials―from fields, forests, and oceans―for producing food, energy, and industrial raw materials.)

Cooperating with the Inevitable
Jan Egbertsen has worked at the port for 20 years and previously was responsible for energy transition-related business development. Now he is the port’s project manager for innovation logistics business development.

“We have to change,” Egbertsen said. “The world around us is changing. We can’t wait until companies in the port area change. Sometimes you have to take the lead.”

So the port is now reducing its CO2 emissions, reusing materials (read: creating a circular economy), generating and cogenerating clean energy, and implementing the aforementioned biobased and circular economy.

The port therefore now functions not only as a catalyst for green development, but as an incubator, funder, innovator, research and development entity, and business partner for sustainable enterprises.

Harvesting the Wind
Private companies have installed 65 MW of wind power in the port area, making it one of the largest onshore wind power parks in the Netherlands. The port is hoping to reach 100 MW of capacity in the next two to three years.

A project team has been working with the Port Authority on developing new windmills as well as upgrading older models since 2015. The port plans on increasing wind production from 64.2 MW to 100 MW. Image by Port of Amsterdam.

Because the wind park sometimes produces more power for the grid than the market demands, the port is studying the possibility of using surplus wind and solar power to generate hydrogen for buses and is exploring other methods of energy storage, including flywheels and batteries.

Under the Netherlands’ national grant program for sustainable energy known as SDE+, wind energy producers receive federal price support for 12 years in the form of a guaranteed minimum price for each unit of energy produced.

Support for projects at the port can come from the Amsterdam Climate and Energy Fund, from North Holland’s provincial Sustainable Economy Funds, and from the port’s own funds.

Moving Collaboratively Toward a Biobased Economy
As a facilitator of green development, the port is working with the city’s local waste incinerator, water company, and sewage company to produce renewable energy in the form of biogas. All the firms are sited within the port’s boundaries.

The Amsterdam Waste Incineration Plant currently cogenerates heat and power from the city’s municipal refuse. The power is fed into the grid, and the heat is used for district heating.

The Amsterdam waste management company AEB converts 99 percent of the 1.4 million tons of municipal and industrial waste it receives annually into sustainable energy and raw materials. Image by AEB Amsterdam.

The port currently leases space to Orgaworld, a company that takes in fruit and fatty waste from restaurants, groceries, and other businesses to make biodiesel fuel. The port is also home to two other bioplastics companies: Plantics and Avantium.

Plantics is conducting research with the University of Amsterdam to make biodegradable bioplastics. Avantium, a spinoff of Shell Oil, in partnership with Coca-Cola, is using bacteria to produce lactic acid from CO2 and sunlight for non-biodegradable biobased bottles.

While the port can partner with biobased companies, “we as a port authority,” Egbertsen said, “don’t produce bioeconomy products nor do we have extensive knowledge about the technology and market.”

Years ago, ports used to function primarily as landlords providing space for companies to conduct their industrial activities, Egbertsen explained.  Now, however, modern ports, can be innovative and proactive.

The Port of Amsterdam thus increasingly sees itself as a prospective matchmaker capable of bringing together companies active in the biobased economy and that handle biomaterials with start-ups that have innovative new biobased technologies.

Therefore the port in the future conceivably might be interested in developing a project, such as a biomass power plant, in partnership with companies who want to produce bioplastics.

Greening the Future―and the Future Bottom-Line
To nurture still more new green technology companies, the port has just opened a new incubator known as Prodock that provides start-up companies in energy, biomaterials, and the circular economy with space to operate pilot plants.

In a circular economy, economic processes are planned and designed to operate without waste or pollution so that neither biological nor inorganic materials used are wasted.

After use, the biological materials flows can ideally be safely returned to the environment or reused as feedstock in another production process. Similarly, engineered materials are designed from the start for eventual reuse in a subsequent production process or application.

Thus the circular economy differs from an economy dependent on recycling. The former plans its production intentionally to avoid waste. By contrast, a system reliant on recycling often creates waste as an integral part of its production process in the hope that a portion of it may eventually be recycled.

One of the reasons that Amsterdam and other ports are interested in nurturing a “bioeconomy” is because biomass is a bulky raw material, and the port already has terminals that handle it.

These terminals are currently handling coal and oil among other cargo, but as the European economy shifts toward renewable fuels, fossil fuel cargo will ultimately be replaced at some time in the future.

Amsterdam container terminals. Image by Joost J. Bakker.

Lots of commodities are already being recycled in the Port of Amsterdam today, including paper, scrap metal, concrete, and tires. Both recycling and the biobased economy depend on economies of scale, and the port helps companies to concentrate large volumes of these raw materials.

Thus, by diverse means, the port is trying to do its share to reduce its carbon footprint and usher in a greener and more sustainable economy.

*This article was published at The Huffington Post on Aug. 3, 2016

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